First steps after arriving in a new city

What is important

When you are arriving to Europe either for studies or work, you might need to open a bank account. And yes, if you move from one country to another, you will need to open a new bank account. That’s what happened to me every time (in Belgium, France, and Germany). Because even though the accounts work perfectly OK, the health insurance, telephone company or even the company you work at, would ask me for a local bank account.

It is one of the most boring tasks to do in another country (especially if you don’t speak the language). They have a lot of requirements that sometimes might be tricky to get. For example, they always will ask you for the proof of residency – which is your registration at the city hall, stating that you have an address in the city – and this document is what you need to get as soon as you arrive at a city.

Another important issue when living abroad is the health insurance. You need to be sure that you are insured for any emergency or even a normal medical appointment because it might be expensive and your travel insurances do not always cover everything. Moreover, it is better to have the insurance of the current country you are living in.

1. City hall registration

As long as you find a place to live (with a legal contract), you must go to the city hall and bring:

  • your passport or international ID
  • the housing contract
  • university registration (or proof of the reason why you will stay in that specific city)
  • the proofs of sustainment (bank extracts, scholarship certificate or work contract).

To be sure about what documents are required for the city hall registration, you can go to your city website. They normally have all the information you need or even go personally to the city hall for asking. Remember you need to do this process within the first 1 or 2 weeks upon your arrival, otherwise, you might have some legal problems.

After you have done this, you might have to wait for some days (even up to 3 months) to get your residence permit. During this period, depending on the country you are applying for, police will visit your address to make sure you are living there and your application is for real. I guess there are some people who apply for residence permit without really living in the city. You don’t have to worry about not having the residence permit yet because with the registration statement you can pretty much do everything else.

2. Open a bank account

As mentioned, you might need to open a bank account. When you get your statement from the city hall, you can go to one of the banks in the city and bring as many documents as you can to prove you live there. It also depends on the bank requirements: city hall statement, address, contract, scholarship, passport, etc. You might also need to come with someone who speaks the local language if you don’t. Sometimes even if they speak English, they would tell you they don’t.

The banks in which I have opened an account are BNP Paribas-Fortis in Belgium, BNP in France and Deutsche Bank in Germany. Depending on your age and type of residence permit (work or studies) you might have to pay a monthly tariff. Actually, some banks allow for opening an account online, thus you can do it even before moving abroad. But it really depends on the bank only, so it is better if you do a little research before your trip.

Also, even if you can find the same bank in different countries, the procedures might be completely different. The cards might even not work in other countries. Therefore, maybe it is better if you just close the account every time you leave a country to live in another. And remember, whenever you get the residence permit card, you need to bring it to the bank so your account is legal, otherwise they might close it after three months.

3. Medical insurance

Normally if you get a work contract or are registered as a student in the university, you have the right to get the city public health insurance.Which normally is for free if you are younger than 28. This will partially cover any medical service you get (general or specialist doctor visit, emergencies, hospitalization, etc). You will need to go to the insurance company and show all the certificates they require. Such as: city hall registration, university or work certificate, bank account, among others. In Belgium, you normally can apply for CAAMI. There are other health insurances like Mutualité Chretienne which is private and not very expensive.

If you have a travel insurance or a scholarship insurance (like MARSH), you better make sure they cover any type of event. Normally those insurances are only for emergencies and not for pre-existing conditions or general doctor visits. This is why you should better get your city health card. With this system, you can actually get a European card, necessary to travel around Europe.


I hope these tips help you out in settling down in a new city. Please do not hesitate to contact me or comment for any further information or advice.

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